Subway is in court again, for a sandwich that might not be what we think.
The Subway footlong might never have been a foot long.
During 2013, an Australian teenager posted on Facebook a picture of his 11-inch Subway Footlong. Feeling cheated (I guess), two New Jersey guys sued, others followed, and we wound up with a class action suit. Subway indicated the problem was frozen bread that had to be consistently stretched. They also said the slogan was an ad, not a promise.
In an initial settlement, Subway agreed to implement new measures that guaranteed accuracy. They also said they would pay a $520,000 legal tab and $500 to each of the ten people leading the suit. Explaining the small settlement the attorney said, “It was difficult to prove monetary damages because everybody ate the evidence.”
But it didn’t end here. The litigation continued when yet another attorney who had nothing to do with the case said it was ridiculous. He explained that because only the lawyers made money, the decision should be thrown out. It was.
On September 29, 2020, an Irish court ruled that Subway’s bread was not bread. If it were, then, as a staple, it would owe no VAT (value added tax). The key is the recipe’s proportions. Regulations say that bread is bread if the sugar, fat, and bread improver content do not exceed two percent of the weight of the flour. Since the sugar in Subway bread is a whopping 10 percent, its bread is too much like cake. As a result, it owes the tax and in the eyes of the law, is not bread.
Wondering if fast food chicken is chicken, a team in Canada tested sandwiches from outlets that included McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Tim Hortons, and Subway. For the first three, DNA results indicated between 80 and 90 percent chicken. But not Subway where a chicken sandwich was 53.6 percent chicken and chicken strips, 42.8 percent. The rest was soy.
We should add that Subway responded with its own testing that showed its chicken was 99 percent chicken and sued the Canadian Broadcasting Corp in a $210 million defamation case for their accusations.
Now It’s the Tuna.
In California, Subway is in court for a class action suit that claims its tuna sandwich “is a mixture of various concoctions.” Saying it delivers 100 percent tuna to its stores that they mix with mayo, Subway disagreed. In subsequent tests, the results were mixed. A NY Times reporter, who said he would take a “deep dive” into the case, sent samples to labs that found no tuna in its DNA samples. However, Inside Edition’s tests from three Subway locations said the tuna was real.And the plaintiffs did change their claims from saying no tuna to questioning if it’s really the skipjack and yellowfin that Subway says it uses.
Our Bottom Line: Thinking at the Margin
As most economists will tell us, everything happens at the margin. Defined as where we decide to do extra after weighing cost and benefit, the margin is a dividing “line” between where we are and where we might be. I think at the margin when I decide to use the snooze alarm for an extra 10 minutes of sleep. Similarly, when Congress cuts taxes or a driver accelerates beyond the speed limit, the decision to do less or more is at the margin.
You can see that all of the controversy surrounding Subway’s sandwich names is also at the margin. They decide how much of their tuna will be tuna, how much chicken will be chicken, and whether their bread recipe will have more sugar. Similarly, a footlong might be longer than 11 1/2 inches.
It all happens at the margin.
My sources and more: A recent NY Times article and The Washington Post returned me to Subway’s legal problems. Then, NPR looked at the bread case and Mashed, at chicken. However, the most engaging article was from an Esquire journalist who told us we are all missing the point. When you get your sandwiches from Subway, just enjoy the footlong and don’t worry about the ingredients. Please note that today’s footlong section was in a previous econlife post.